The presumption of innocence is one of the most important principles of the modern human rights system with immense importance being placed on the safeguarding the rights of a person facing criminal proceedings. In other words, presumption of innocence a safeguard against wrongful convictions and a legal tool for ensuring that every person is innocent until proven guilty. Research on public perception of guilt of apprehended persons in Croatia has yielded several key finding regarding presumption of innocence. First and foremost, participants are likely to judge apprehended person as guilty because of the mere presence of the police. In a conducted survey 3 groups of photographs were shown to 3 groups of people. Each group of photographs represented one restraining measure, ranging from no restraint (Group 1), mild (Group 2) to severe (Group 3) and respondents were asked whether or not they thought the person shown in the photograph is guilty. These are the results: As can be seen, no matter what the measure of restraints were, there is a high level of agreement that the person in the photograph is guilty, even when no restraining measure are applied (Group 1).
Second key finding shows that not only respondents tend to see person as a guilty no matter what restraining measure is applied, but this perception of guilt rises as the level of force and physical restraint increases. It is clear that respondents understand this social situation not through the lenses of
the concept of presumption of innocence, but as a process by which they tend to trust the police and their actions.
That public perception of apprehended person is crucial is enforced in the third finding as well. The research showed that respondents were more likely to see a person as guilty if they ascribed negative characteristics to him/her, such as aggressive, dangerous, threatening, repulsive and hot-tempered. These results came from a focus group which showed that a participant’s negative perception stemmed from their definition of the situation: if police are present, the person is guilty. Moreover, focus group participants tend to see a guilty person in stereotypical ways – wearing a hoodie translates to, by their impression, looking like a hooligan; wearing sunglasses translates to hiding something.
The maxim ‘innocent until proven guilty’ is incorporated in the UN Declaration of Human Rights and is one of fundamental postulates of EU Directive (2016/343). According to the Directive, all Member States have to ensure that suspects and accused persons are presumed innocent until proven guilty under the law. Main objective of this research was to contribute to the correct implementation of the Directive and show that manner in which person is apprehended is crucial. Therefore the police, but also the media who report on the arrests, should be aware of the notion that every person is innocent until proven otherwise.